Thursday, March 29, 2018

The attack of the Honeycrisp wannabees

Honeycrisp regnant
Who shall dethrone the mighty Honeycrisp?
The wolves have been circling for some time around old King Honeycrisp. This variety originated, and still dominates, the niche of super crisp, tooth-achingly sweet apples.

Honeycrisp's rival apples aspire to rule the kingdom, not to topple it. To supplant with same-only-better, not to challenge with new tastes and textures.

By when did the King get so old? What makes him vulnerable?

A plant patent lasts for 12 years, granting to the patent holder exclusive rights.

Savvy apple breeders have learned how to parlay those rights into a revenue stream to grow a new apple's market share.

But, the clock is ticking. The marketing ends when the money does.

Honeycrisp went off-patent in 2008. From a marketing standpoint, it is defenseless.

Honeycrisp's breeders at the University of Minnesota wasted no time in advancing an heir apparent. SweeTango was in the wings and ready to go, controlled by an apple club called, significantly, the Next Big Thing.

But today, Honeycrisp's popularity remains strong, and others have come forth to contest the same niche. If you like Honeycrisp, they are all worthy of your consideration.

Collage of Honeycrisp-type apples
Clockwise from upper left: Jonagold, SweeTango, SugarBee, Cosmic Crisp (not shown), Honeycrisp, Evercrisp

EverCrisp, the product of the Midwest Apple Improvement Association, is crisp, sweet, and boasts excellent keeping abilities.

Meanwhile, Washington State, America's apple orchard, has gone all in on Cosmic Crisp, with millions of trees in the pipeline and a huge commitment by growers. (All aboard the monoculture! What could possibly go wrong?)

SugarBee is another contender, sweet, crisp, and with some appealing flavor character that Honeycrisp lacks.

Finally, something old. Jonagold is disarmingly simple with a great, juicy crunch. I think Jonagold's sugar balance is better than Honeycrisp's.

An effort by New England growers to rebrand Jonagold as a Honeycrisp successor was brutally suppressed two years ago, but the apple was in many stores last fall.

Jonagold dates from the 1940s. It is the only pretender that lacks Honeycrisp ancestry.


This mass assessment is based on my notes and memory, but earlier this year I compared Honeycrisp and EverCrisp directly.

I haven't tasted CosmicCrisp yet, but of the rest I rate SweeTango as the best apple, with this qualification. It is hard to find a good one. The apple is available, but its winning qualities do not travel well.

Of these, SweeTango is least like Honeycrisp. Its crunch is different and it has actual flavors.

EverCrisp and SugarBee are both better, in my view, than the original.

EverCrisp has a really great crunch. It bested Honeycrisp in a recent comparison, though that Honeycrisp was past peak.

SugarBee has the better flavor profile.

Cosmic Crisp will be coming to a store near you in a next few years. The level of investment in this variety among Washington growers, for an apple unknown to the public, is really extraordinary.

Good luck, Jonagold. This variety is easy to like and very much worth a try, even if there's no patent to generate advertising money for it.

Rhetorical questions of the day: What makes Cosmic Crisp better than CosmicCrisp? Why not Evercrisp? Why SugarBee? Can I achieve fame by renaming my blog AdamsApples?

Don't get me started on Swee Tango.



  1. I like Zestar! as much as SweeTango

    1. What's especially nice about Zestar is that it ripens in mid August.

      It is about the only apple of this style that you can eat fresh that early.


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